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tv   American Artifacts  CSPAN  March 6, 2016 3:00pm-4:01pm EST

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an: our cities towards staff recently traveled to anaheim, california, to learn about it rich history. learn more about anaheim and other stops on our tour at you are watching american history announcer: each week, american and history tv's american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places. coming up next, we visit whitney i plantation in wallace, you are louisiana, to learn about the history of slavery in america. ashley: my name is ashley rogers. i am the director of museum operations at the whitney plantation. we are beginning our tour today
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in an historic church, which was built circa 1870 by people who lived on the opposite side of the river in louisiana. the structure was donated about 10 years ago by the descendents of that congregation. they bought the land in 1870, two parcels of land, for the express purpose of building a house of worship. in the sale document we have from the courthouse, they named their congregation the anti-yoke baptist congregation. that message of being against slavery is something important to our story here. this is a significant church for newly freed slaves on the east bank of the river. we are talking about the lives of people who saw freedom after the end of the civil war. we like to start our to her here in this building so we can see what happens to people -- our tour here in this building so we can see what happened to people after freedom came.
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the whitney plantation is the only plantation in louisiana exclusively dedicated to telling the story of an slaved people. this land we are on now was historically known as habitation hideout, and our owner, john cummings, purchased the property 15 years ago and has been restoring the structure and the church. we had to build some things here, restore existing buildings, and bring this historic structure -- all of these things help us tell the story of slavery. when john cummings bought the property in 1989, there were no original slave cabins. they had all been torn down. we had to move those in from elsewhere in louisiana. this structure, like i said, helps us round out that story of enslavement to after the civil war.
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we have some other buildings that were here that we have read built. at the whitney plantation, we have a collection of statues created by an ohio artist, woodrow nash. he built these two represent people who were in slaved at the end of slavery and then later gave their testimony to the work progress administration in the 1930's. we use the narratives of slaves throughout our interpretation on the site. these give life to who those people were. in the 1930's, when the wpa traveled across the staff -- the south, they were talking to people who were in their 80's, 90's, even hundreds, who, when they were slaves, had just been children. at the highest end, maybe 15
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when freedom came, but most of them were under the age of 10. this is to remind us who those voices are coming from, people who were talking about their experiences of slavery as children, often time -- oftentimes recalling things that happened to their parents. this plantation was founded in 1752 by a gentleman in recurrent -- immigrant who came in the company of john wall with his family. they sailed from france and came here. in 1752 when he founded this plantation, it was much smaller. it was a tract on which he grew rice and indigo as the main cash crop. indigo was the significant cash crop of the land in the 18th and 17th centuries. he and his children continued planting indigo until the late 18th century, beginning of the 19th century. in 1795, a louisiana planter
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successfully granulated sugar in louisiana. it's a strange climate zone. nobody had been able to take at the full way before that. in 1795, with the health of someone from that help of someone from haiti who had come -- with the help of someone from haiti, he was able to granulate the crop. right around the same time that the first sugar crop was being granulated, indigo was not a viable crop anymore. so, this plantation transitioned at some point after that. by about 1805, it was a sugar plantation, and it still is today. sugar is a gigantic industry in louisiana. all around us are historic cane fields that are now sent to the dixie cane fields and sugar refineries.
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three successive generations ran the plantation, always with the labor of enslaved africans and african descendents. over the course of 100 plus years that they owned this land, there were many generations of people enslaved here, so the population would have shifted over time with market forces. the highest number we ever had recorded at one single time as enslaved people is 101, but we believe that is low. we believe there were as many as 200 and slaved at one point. we have found records of 357 over the course of 100 plus years, but there would be a lot of people missing from that. we will start introducing a population at our first memorial.
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memorials were built to people enslaved in louisiana and on this land. this is the wall of honor. on this memorial, we recorded the names and basic information about 354 individuals we have been able to find who were enslaved on this land. this memorial is -- it moves through time, roughly chronologically. on the earlier side, people born in the 18th century, but we are missing an entire generation here. we don't know anyone's name who was enslaved here from the very beginning in 1752. all of these people were born after the founding of the plantation. this information comes mostly from sale documents. people's names were not always
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recorded when they were an slaved. if you look at things like census records, it will include a tally of how many men and women, but it will not tell you names. we have to look for those names in sale documents, in the city of new orleans there was a notary involved. we go to the archives to find sales and purchases of people. all of the information we have here, this biographic information, is also related to selling. where someone came from, how old they were, whether they came with children, the jobs they knew how to do, these are all things that would affect their price at sale. louisiana has different laws than other states and territories in the united states. in louisiana, for a very long time, it was illegal to sell children away from parents before puberty.
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later, it was codified to before the age of 10. here we see agatha being sold with children. these people are in a lot, being sold together. we have basic information. we are able to tease out a little bit. one thing we notice is most of these people were born in africa. that is listed here, their places of origin, yet their names, like michelle, our european names. we see a few spanish names as well. we know that the people who have these european derived names were not born in africa with those names. so that tells us something about cultural annihilation, the way
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people's cultures were taken from them when they were sold into slavery in the new world. slave traders often renamed people. that's something that continued to happen throughout the course of slavery over the course of the 19th century. when people were sold from one plantation to another, their new owners chose to rename them. in louisiana, simon north -- solomon northrup, was famously 12 years a slave -- they made a movie about it. he lived 12 years as a slave in louisiana under the name of plat, which was not his given name. that's an experience a lot of people have and you can see that written in various narratives. there are a few people who have african names.
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here is a person named mingo, which is an african name. we also have someone named samba, and coacou. this is an islamic name, moussa, who was most likely a muslim. people who were traded from north africa were likely to have been exposed to islam through the arab world's trading networks. this tells us something about the culture and religion of people who came here as slaves. people who came to the americas enslaved were, in some cases muslim, in some cases catholic.
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the kingdom of congo was officially catholic by the 1500s. some people would have been bringing their indigenous cosmology. a lot of ships made stops in the caribbean before coming to the mainland, so there again, another chance for blending with west african and caribbean religions coming into louisiana. it's also important to note that these people were selected by slave traders for specific skills and traits that they had. most of the people came to different parts of the u.s. as slaves for different reasons. a lot of it had to do with the crops they were familiar with. the first two slave ships that came to louisiana, the captains of those ships were under orders
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to find skilled indigo growers because they were trying to establish an indigo economy here in louisiana, and the european traders and slaves did not have the skills to grow indigo. they had to find people who knew how to grow it and process it, and who knew how to build those skills. same thing with rice. rice growers were wrought into louisiana and south carolina. -- brought into louisiana and south carolina. you find this trading in africa going to specific markets in the united states to create that crop wealth. so, most of the people in the early years we can see were
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coming from west and central africa, a few people born in the caribbean. most people are coming internationally. something that is important to note about the movement across the atlantic during the time of the atlantic slave trade is that the vast majority of settlement of the new world was african compulsory settlement. of all the people who crossed from the old world to the new world until 1807, four out of five came from africa. the vast majority was enslaved africans being forced on ships and across the atlantic. there are not good estimates about the actual number. an historian, david altus, has come to the figure of about 12.5 million people, not including people who didn't make it, people who died en route to the boat.
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about 12.5 million people involved in the middle passage. an enormous diaspora. of that 12.5 million people, less than 5% came to the territories that became the united states. the vast majority of movement in slave society in the new world was into the caribbean and brazil. in the united states, we outlawed the international slave trade in 1807, which did not fully cut it off, but it's significantly lower the movement. -- lowered that movement. people were still being pirated and smuggled in. the last slave ship arrived in the united states around 1859-1860, right up to the end of the civil war. around 1807, the land down here in the mississippi river valley
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was just beginning to be developed. the louisiana purchase happens. 1807, you can't bring any more slaves into the united states. at the same time people are buying up large tracts of land and increasing their need for an reliance upon compulsory or slave labor, they did not have an influx of supply coming from africa. we see that this changes the culture here. what happens is a very robust domestic slave trade develops in the wake of that. you can see on our wall here that there are a few people born on what is called the east coast, instead of in the old world or in the caribbean, and on the reverse side of the wall, you will see a large collection of them.
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so here, all of a sudden, all of these people are listed east coast. east coast is probably virginia. you can see that they came from an english owned plantation by their name, as with perry, claim, jack, tom, sam. they no longer have french or spanish names. you don't see many african names. we see people coming from english owned plantations. so, the domestic slave trade was an enormous movement of people across the country. in total, after the conclusion of the international slave trade in 1807, 1 million people were moved from the upper south, virginia, maryland, tennessee, south carolina, and north carolina, and one million people were moved down the river to
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louisiana, alabama, mississippi, where there were large-scale plantations. to give you an idea of the difference in labor, i come from north carolina. a lot of our plantations in north carolina, tobacco plantations, tobacco is really awful for the soil. fields have to remain fallow for a long time after growing tobacco. it cuts down on the amount of land you can work and a lot of the plantations there had 25-50 slaves. here in louisiana, 100 one on this plantation, and that's on the smaller end. very close by, there was a slave labor force of 750 people. you can see there was a greater need here for large-scale labor. in the uppers health, they had a larger population of women.
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-- upper south, they had a larger population of women. they were encouraging family units, family growth. part of a female slaves value was her reproductive potential. slaveowners used the word "increase." all of that reproductive potential belonged to the person who owns that woman, so there was a great value in encouraging the growth of families because you could make exponentially more money by selling off his -- those children. so the majority of slaves were in their late teens, early 20's, and most of them marched overland.
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some of it was on a riverboat on the mississippi. some of it was on boats coming down the atlantic and into the gulf of mexico. the new orleans was the heart of that trade. there was a constant flow of people coming to new orleans and being spread out to the territories from there. this is where you can see all of that happening. on this plantation, we have an oral history given to us by the descendents of one of the people enslaved here, the describes the process of being taken from the upper self and sold to -- upper south and sold to the lower south. she was born on the east coast, probably virginia. and the story about anna is that she was purchased as a gift for the lady of the house who had no children of her own. anna, as the family has related to us, lived inside the big house, and would have had an
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interesting relationship with the family. people who lived in the big house who were slaves often had a strained relationship we cannot really understand today. she is a slave and would have been treated as such, but also would have been very close to the family as well. and the reason why that is significant is because of her son, victor hydel. he was born in 1835 when anna was a young woman. anna's mistress had a brother who impregnated anna. this was so long ago, we don't know if anna was raped, but for enslaved women, there was no such thing as consent, because they didn't own their bodies. so victor was born of anna and antoine.
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he would have been considered what they called in louisiana a quad room, 1/4 african, 3/4 european, and enslaved by his own family. this is one instance we know of for certain. over 100 years of ownership, of all these 350 four people, we know there were many, many more people born here of enslaved mothers and white fathers. and those children born of those enslaved women belonged to their own family, would not necessarily be treated better, and would sometimes be treated worse because usually there was a white wife somewhere in there who understood where those children were coming from.
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so, the separation between enslaved people and enslavers was not really there. there was a lot of mixing in terms of sexual assault, in terms of actual relationships. certainly here in louisiana, a lot of people of color existed here because of consensual relationships, where enslaved women would be freed and given their own property. louisiana has a mix of people, free people of color, and people enslaved by their own families. in this memorial, we have transcribed the names of 107,000 people enslaved in the state of louisiana through the year 1820. this is a database that an historian put together that ends
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in 1820. there is talk of extending it to 1865. 107,000 people are inscribed here. we have just their first names. we have also recorded little snippets from the work progress administration. we allow people to walk through on their own, take a few minutes to reflect. this is the last memorial we visit before we visit the historic grounds of the plantation. this is called the field of angels. we put this memorial here for 2200 children who died as slaves
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in st. john the baptist parish, the parish we are in here. brad moorehead is from mississippi, and this is called coming home. we have along the walls here are the names, date of death, ages, and names of the mothers of all of these children who died. these are recorded in the church records. our historian did the research in pulling those records out of the church and recording them here. these are people who are not listed with any name whatsoever. they are just listed as little slave, negro slave girl, negro slave boy. some of these people who have no names were perhaps too young, they died too young to be named, but sometimes we see this notation when people were two years old or three years old, people who are definitely had names, but who in death were not seen as important enough to look
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into it to find at what their name was in life. so, the whitney plantation was for the longest amount of time a sugar plantation. today, our sugar field comes right up to the edge of where we interpret. historically, the land had a sugar mill on its site as well. so, the people who were in slaved on this land worked in the fields, and probably the majority of them would have been occupied in sugar.
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they worked in the fields, as do mystics, as herdsman. this was kind of like a little village -- as domestics, as herdsman. this was kind of like a little village. they made the food, grew the food, worked on textiles and things like that, carpenters and the like. sugar processing happened at the end of the year. the growing season -- currently, it is early october. sugar is still growing and going to continue to grow until late october, early november. the goal was sugar is to have everything processed and done by christmas time. christmas day, they want the entire field done in granulated. these were used in the granulation of sugar. we brought these kettles and -- in from other places, but historically, at our sugar mill, there would've been eight kettles like this, and they would go from large to small. you can see that it has a lip on it. these would be sitting in a brick structure and then open on the bottom, where there would be a fire underneath. the goal of the cattle is is to take ground down sugar stock --
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kettle is to take ground down sugar stock and a steam engine, take the juice that comes out of the sugarcane and boil it in these giant kettles. these would have to be tended 24 hours a day for about one month and the people who worked making sugar would use long handed ladles and physically scoop the juice from one kettle to the next, to the next, to the next, and then put it in cooling pans where it would granulate. this, as you can imagine, would be a very hot and dangerous process. sugar is sticky. so, not only would it get attached to the bottom and burn, which made an inferior product, it could also burn the people making the sugar. it was dangerous in that way. and they worked in shifts, 24 hours a day.
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the thing that makes sugar difficult and unique is that it has to be processed as soon as it is cut. you could not cut it and then sit on it, process it later. as soon as it is cut, it starts to die, and it is not going to make good sugar. harvesting season, grinding season, was extremely grueling. all of the physical labor done outside is done in a very cold time of year. louisiana gets bitterly cold in november and december, and slaves would be working outside constantly. the whitney plantation does not have original slave cabins, as i mentioned. all of them were torn down by the 1970's. by the end of the civil war, there were 22 slave cabins on this site, and they looked about like this. pretty typical.
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it's essentially a duplex. there would be a family on each side, if not a real family, a fictive family. the slave cabins on this site were arranged we have brought these in. there would be two rows facing each other with a central courtyard. you can imagine that would have created a kind of community. these were set back from the plantation big house by about half a mile. there was some physical difference -- distance between where the family -- hydel family lived and slave workers lived. their movements were still controlled. people could not leave the plantation without a pass. an overseer would be monitoring them at all times of the day to make sure they got up at the
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right time, were at work at the right time, and got back to the cabins at the right time. that said, especially because of the distance and how there is so much space here, something that was very common in this region was something called running away a little bit. maybe for a night. especially since families tended to be separated, if a husband and wife were on neighboring plantations, they might be about two miles apart. running away for a night to see a loved one and then coming back before dawn was extremely common. there was a certain degree of risk. if they got caught before they came back, even if they intended to come back, they could because and punished -- they would be considered a runaway slave and be punished for that.
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from dawn until dusk they would be at their jobs and then come back to the cabinet nighttime. nighttime at the cabin would be a time for communion with people who were there, the families, the fictive families, and food preparation. slaves were given rations by the plantation owner. typically, the most common thing you can read about in slave narratives are cornmeal and bacon, pork belly, lots of fat, not a nutritious cut, and not considered really the good cut that the family would be eating. they would receive things like intestines, pig feet. these things have been sustained for a long time in southern cooking, but had their roots in the lower cuts given to enslaved
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people during slavery. also very common in terms of the food given to slave people are things that originated in africa, black-eyed peas, watermelon, okra -- which is important here in louisiana for making gumbo. people brought african foodways and supplemented the best they could with the ingredients they had here. people cooked in their cabins. there was usually a fireplace in the cabin where they could prepare meals. in a place like south louisiana where it is very, very hot, we imagine them preparing a campfire. the furnishings and cabins were varied across time and space. all of these things would be
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different on different plantations. we have a few things you can read about in slave narratives, where people talk about the types of furnishings they had. a rope bed like this is common. this is basically planks with ropes attached. what we have here is this rough kind of fabric with hay in the metal. you can see how that is constructed. in louisiana, it was also common to use spanish moss for stuffing for a bed. another thing people talked about was making a pallet on the floor. that something a lot of people experienced a different plantations. again, solomon northrup never described sleeping on a bed for 12 years. he described sleeping on the floor. people would be treated differently in different places. beds like this, about the size
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of a full bed today, would be a bed for an entire family, children, mom, dad, all sharing the space. you can see that there is not a lot of space in these cabins. there would not be much privacy, what we would think of as being appropriate in a family and being private. all of that living was done in just a couple of rooms with everybody together. this is an 1868 jail. this is not a slave jail. it is from a few years after the conclusion of slavery, but we brought it in as a learning tool so that we can see the types of typical spaces where enslaved people were confined, especially leading up to sales. this is a typical design of that era. there are a few photographs of pens at auction houses that were
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similar to this. particularly in new orleans, there would be a front room where the auction would take place, and in the back, a small courtyard with a row of cells. people could come out during the day and sleep in the cells at night. in addition to the pens used in the marketing of slave people, there were also slave jails. in the business tricked it -- business district, there were two dozen slave jails at one time. people were locked up in the state penitentiary as well. all of the same rules applied to slave people if they were convicted of murder or theft, they would be locked up the same way a freed person would, but of course, a lot of the punishment was done in a sort of extralegal fashion on the plantation. plantations did have jail like
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structures where people could be confined as punishments, but typically they would be made of wood or brick, or people might be confined in a barn or extra room somewhere. a lot of people who were enslaved in the state of louisiana would at one time or another be sold at auction, especially since so many people who were enslaved in the lower south had come from the upper south. they had been sold off the plantation and purchased by a slave trader and brought to new orleans to be sold at auction. this whole transaction of moving people from one part of the country to another to sell them is something that kind of the -- elucidates the market forces behind enslavement. this is not just a southern institution.
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the slave trade itself involved insurance agents, mortgage brokers, bankers. there was a lot of industry, northern and southern, involved in that. to give you an example, if a slave trader working out of virginia and new orleans -- and here the biggest one was isaac franklin -- if he purchased an enslaved person off the plantation in the upper south, he would sometimes pay full value cash, but he would pay a wholesale rate. if he did not have the full cash amount, he could put a mortgage on that person. they would be insured for the time they were transferred to the lower south. the insurance would cover all
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the expenses of moving them to the lower south, and then he would sell them at retail, about 100% more than what he bought them for. if he had a note of mortgage, he would pay off the mortgage and pocket the profit. so, the same way we can commodify houses, cars, livestock, these were the same ways we made commodities of humans. people were separated from loved ones. they were locked up in pens. they might be with their family or about to be sold from their family. all of that is being done with a price tag. people who were locked up in slave pens also had to sometimes wait for a long time for the market to be at the appropriate value to sell them at the highest return. so, if people made it to an auction house in new orleans and
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the price of slaves was low, sometimes, they would have to wait. they would just wait for those markets to improve so they could make a higher return on their investment. as far as the actual dollar amount the people were being sold for in louisiana, a good rate that you see pretty commonly was about $900-$1000. for somebody skilled, that might go up to $1500. there was also something called the fancy trade. girls and women who were considered beautiful and might be sold as concubines, to be used as sex slaves, they would charge an additional fee.
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this area we are standing in his where we have the highest concentration of original structures, all centered around the 1790's big house. here we have the original site of the kitchen. there was a kitchen here from, as far as we can tell, the earliest time, the construction of the house. this structure was here a little later. it was here by about 1830. it was in very poor condition when john cummings bought the land in 1999. he had to write the building and rebuild. a lot of these structures were falling into the ground. hydel emigrated from germany. his son built the big house. it was later occupied by his son.
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they operated it in a partnership until 1839, at which point the widow took over. the widow ran the plantation from 1840-1860. so the longest time of ownership was a woman, and those were also the most profitable years. also the time of the largest slave population was under the ownership of a woman. the kitchen, where we are right now, is where the slave cook would prepare meals. we have records of a couple of different cooks, marie and marie joseph. cooks would be assisted by domestics, people who lived either inside the big house or close to the big house and assisted the family. they would do things from cleaning to helping the cook.
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the cooks today in a kitchen like this -- cook pasta a in a kitchen like this would start very early in the morning -- cook's day, in a kitchen like this, would start very early in the morning. she would build a fire in the center here, and most of the cooking was not done on the flames, but on the embers built up by the fire. she would have to get a large supply of coal, burn lots and lots of wood, and then rake the coal on to the hearth to prepare food. we have a couple of examples of ways people prepared food on the coal. you put a flat bottom pot here. we also have something called the spider pot built with legs. the kohl's go underneath -- coals go underneath and on top as well.
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you can see an example here where this was constructed almost with fingers coming up to retain the coal on the top. a lot of the cook's day would be spent and over pots -- bent over pots like this or crouching down, trying to get close to what she was preparing. anything we prepare today in an oven would be prepared in pots like this over a hearth. it created a dutch oven. we know the food would be a cultural mix. the family was german but this is french louisiana. there were native american ingredients, african ingredients. and in south louisiana, there is an african center.
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something like gumbo, for instance, is an african food that has a european and native american vocabulary as well. but they would also be preparing any types of foods that the family has specifically requested. we have archaeological remains of cow and cow teeth. that tells us that the cook was doing everything from butchering to preparing the food. we also found turkey and turtle. this is a raised creole cottage style of architecture. it seems to have been built into
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-- in two campaigns, or perhaps raised at a later time, but it was complete to this configuration by 1805 and had a quick renovation in the 1830's to add dormers. other than that, it is pre-much unchanged. -- pretty much unchanged. there were two generations of hydels, and then it was a wage labor farm. we are going to enter through the ground floor. any domestic slaves that worked on this presentation -- plantation would come in through the back. we have made a choice to enter through the back as slave people would. the front is the grand vista. the back is where slave people would go into a pantry to prepare food for plating and service, and then take it into the dining room.
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so, we are in the dining room of the whitney plantation big house. the dining room is on the ground floor, and the floor has spanish tile, which we re-created. we did find fragments of this tile when we were doing the restoration. this speaks to the role of the mississippi river in these people's lives. enslaved people did travel the mississippi. all of the people enslaved along the river road were responsible for building and maintaining the levy. there was a lot of give-and-take and a lot of flooding, so some of these big houses -- and this may have been one of them but we don't know -- some of them were originally open air on the ground floor to allow for a kind
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of flooding, and then later enclosed as the levees improved. this is the dining room where enslaved people would serve meals. we have furnished the big house using not many original pieces because they stopped living here in 1867, but we have inventories, and we used those as our guides. we would go room to room and record everything down to each fork. over here we have another pantry that would be used for service. there is an interesting feature in the corner, and olive jar sunk into the floor for refrigeration. this is original. the slaves could use this to cool down food or wine. if they wanted to chill a desert, this would be a good place to chill it before service.
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the oaks in the front of the house are actually not original. they are on the about 50 years old, added much later. in a photograph in the 1920's, there was a fence coming up to the house and gardens coming up to the house. there was a mishmash of things coming right up to the house. this house, though it is constructed -- the way it is constructed, is typical of french and caribbean design, something that is unusual for people who live in areas settled by the english.
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the porch would function almost like a highway. -- hallway. each room comes out onto the porch, so you could walk from one room on the end to one room on the other just on the porch. shotgun houses are african in origin. and the people who built these houses were african descendents building things that were familiar to them. the whitney house has the original murals. this is the only part we have had reconstructed. our conservator had to redo this pattern because it was no -- was so deteriorated. but we have the original on the post. this is from the 1840's, a time of great sugar wealth. this is significant. some people in the 1840's and 1850's built enormous mansions, and most of our visitors here
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are expecting to see something like tara, something they have read about or seen in movies. by comparison, these are modest houses, but they were able to make enough money, using the forced labor of african-american slaves, to pay somebody to come out and paint faux marble. all of that attention to detail cost a lot of money, and that money came from the forced labor on the fields. so, we are walking into one of the large bedrooms. this has the typical furnishing of the era, mid-19th century. also, again, has more of this decorative mural work on the fireplace. you can see the pineapple motif
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here and the marbling on the fireplace was well. this was the family home, but enslaved people were in every room of this house performing labor. in a bedroom like this, family members might have personal servants, people who in some houses slept on pallets on the floor next to the beds of their owners. they would perform labor like cleaning, of course, dusting, lighting the fire, getting clothing ready to wear, and there is a bed warmer on the bed as well. a slave would fill that with coal and then run it underneath the sheets to get the fed warm before the family got in. -- bed warm before the family got in. enslaved people would tend to personal hygiene as well. there were chamber pots they had
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to empty. everything was done by enslaved workers including, of course, raising children. children would be physically nursed and cared for why enslaved -- by enslaved wet nurses. they usually slept in the same room with the children and formed a real bond with those children. this again, is an interesting relationship. one person is an slaved. one is the enslaver. and yet -- is enslaved, one person is the enslaver, and yet they have this bond. we believe the owner from 1840-1860 had this commissioned.
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her husband had died, so we believe this may have been commemorative. this room -- it is really difficult when we come in here to not just gawk at how beautiful it is. there's a lot of beautiful furniture. the decor is lovely. most visitors imagine themselves as the people who would be relaxing in a room like this. it's important to think about the different ways this room would be used. it would be a site of relaxation for the family, but it would be a site of labor for enslaved people. one thing we know was common was that there were enslaved people who were skilled musicians or skilled at entertainment. they might be called upon after their work in the field was concluded to entertain the family. solomon northrup, of course, was
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a skilled fiddle player. he had to come in and perform fiddle for dances and balls on -- all night long. you can understand that being forced or compelled to entertain when all you what to do is relax and be by yourself would be another form of psychological torment. in the last big bedroom, we have a statue to represent anna, the little girl. this is a reminder that people lived in the big house as well. from here, we go onto the back porch. here you can see the end of the historic murals. these patterns, by the way, come from a standard french pattern book.
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this is a motif that was copied from the pattern book and applied to the wall by a painter. our conservator came out here and uncovered all of this painting. you can see the condition it was in right over here. there are a couple of spots she left that are dark. you can see how deteriorated it had been. one thing she found was something that expresses a little bit of life after the civil war. you can see all of these scribbles. these were children who lived in the house after slavery ended. the some of them are quite -- some of them are heights. they are dated.
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these are written in french as well, so that's interesting in learning about the culture here. so, after slavery ended, this plantation continued operating as a cane plantation for many years. close to the river road, we have the original plantation store. plantation stores were another method of -- welcome a you could see them as a method of oppression, certainly -- well, you could see them as a method of oppression, certainly. they were kind of like a company store. the workers would have to shop there for all of their goods. they could charge whatever price they wanted and they could jack that up. and they would deduct that from the money they made working in the fields. sharecropping is not common in sugar. you cannot share crop sugar. you need the whole crop. they had wage laborers.
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wage laborers lived in slave cabins. many were former slaves or their descendents. that continued into the 1960's, working the same fields. we have a lot of records from the plantation store, and we are currently beginning a project to project -- to process those records and create an oral history. those people had a different experience, but some things remain very much the same from slavery time. oftentimes, the story of slavery in the history of african americans in particular in this country is kind of consigned to this special little corner of history, african american history, and it doesn't apply to anyone else. i think in particular the story
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of slavery is integral to the history of the united states. you can't understand the united states without understanding slavery, certainly not today, not the 1960, not in 1900. none of these things make sense unless you understand the forced migration of africans to this country. i think it is important because we don't talk enough about the realities of slavery. we don't talk enough about the inequality of african americans and what they have faced in this country. and we don't talk enough about our role today in perpetuating that inequality. it's really significant, i think, and a lot of historic sites address it in fits and starts. i think it's important for people to come here and get a
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